Trial gets under way for Rutgers student accused of bullying

Dharun Ravi is accused of using a webcam to stream footage of his roommate's sexual encounter with another man.

Story highlights

  • "These acts were purposeful," says a prosecutor
  • Dharun Ravi, 19, faces a 15-count indictment that includes hate crime charges
  • Jury will decide whether the alleged bullying was borne of a gay prejudice
  • Tyler Clementi flung himself off the George Washington Bridge just days after the incident
A former Rutgers University student went on trial Friday in New Jersey on hate crimes charges and other counts for allegedly using a webcam to spy on his roommate's sexual encounter with another man.
The roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge just days after Dharun Ravi allegedly streamed the encounter remotely and allowed others to view it.
"That viewing lasted, depending upon who you want to listen to, two to five seconds," said defense attorney Steven Altman. "The back of two people from the corner of the room, embracing. ... That was it."
Ravi, 19, faces a 15-count indictment in connection with Clementi's 2010 death that includes charges of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, tampering with physical evidence, witness tampering, and hindering apprehension or prosecution.
The jury will be confronted with the question of whether Ravi's alleged bullying was borne of a gay prejudice that prompted him to intimidate Clementi because of his sexual orientation.
"These acts were purposeful, they were intentional, and they were planned," prosecutor Julia L. McClure told the jury on the first day of the trial.
The highly anticipated case drew more than 100 people inside the courtroom.
Last year, Ravi turned down a plea deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.
The deal offered by Middlesex County prosecutors would have required the former student to undergo 600 hours of community service, counseling and to dispose of any information that could identify the man that appeared in the web video with Clementi.
Prosecutors also offered to help Ravi avoid deportation, though they said they could not guarantee it. Ravi is a citizen of India who had been studying on a visa at the New Jersey university.
A second student charged in the scandal, Molly Wei, 19, reached a plea deal that requires her to testify against Ravi.
If convicted, Ravi could face up to 10 years behind bars.
On Friday, Wei's roommate Cassandra Cicco testified about the alleged video stream.
"I could only really see one of them and his back was to the camera and he appeared to be shirtless," she said. "Someone pressed end on the feed. It ended abruptly and we were all just like -- oh, OK, that happened. And that was the end of it."
Less than a month after Clementi's suicide, President Barack Obama released a taped video message condemning bullying.